James, the brother of Jesus, writes this letter to Jewish believers who scattered during an intense time of persecution, after the martyrdom of Stephen,(Acts 7:54-60). James writes to people who have had to leave their lives, businesses, friends, fellow believers, homes behind. These dispersed people are likely not to be welcomed into new communities – since they are part of an illegal sect.
To these scattered believers, James offers wisdom. Much of what James tells them is intended to help them re-think their lives and their faith, in light of their new reality.
My goals in preaching through James are as follows…
1. To interpret James’ words and advice in the light of the Gospel. James is kind of like a New Testament wisdom book, and very practically focused – however I believe that the Gospel can be seen throughout.
2. To work through the entire book, a section at a time. I think moving through the letter in this way keeps the context in perspective and helps build a better understanding of the letter as a whole.
3. To respect the cultural distance. Biblical texts are thousands of years old – written to people and cultures far removed from our own. Handling these texts properly means that we try to get a sense of the cultural distance between ourselves and our situation and that of the recipients of the letter, before we try to apply it to our lives.
Typically, as I work through sermons, I ask three questions…
~ Who is God? What does a passage say about God? Even if God is not explicitly mentioned, one can look at commands or exhortations or questions being asked and can come to an understanding of what God is or must be like.
~ What is the Gospel? Every sermon should bring out how a passage preaches the Gospel. How God is and has been and will be sufficient for us in our need and weakness. How God forgives our sin. How God is announcing his coming Kingdom.
~ What is the Passage Asking Us to Do, Understand, Re-think, Believe? Fifteen minutes after the sermon, what should we be thinking about? How are our lives meant to be transformed by grace.